Guess the Emotion

Emotions, eh? Weird things. Tangly unidentifiable things.

One of the great banes of modern life, perhaps, is anxiety. Whether it’s a stressful job, an unexpected visitor, or a constant fear of failure, anxiety seems to stalk us all in different ways.
I have trouble identifying anxiety in myself. In fact, it’s usually only when I notice some of the physical signs of anxiety: shaking hands or a cold sweat, that I realise I’m anxious at all. Of course, I can be “not looking forward” to something, but that’s usually because I’ve thought the possible scenario through, and have determined that I’ll probably have difficulties with some aspect of it. But the physical symptoms of anxiety can often catch me unawares. I’ll have thought I’ve prepared well for whatever-it-is. Logical brain engaged. And then the anxiety symptoms will intrude. My brain will be really irritated, insisting that it had it all in hand if it wasn’t for those pesky physical symptoms. All they’re doing is making the situation worse.

Things that make me anxious include:
– being under observation. If I know someone is observing me, my social mask suddenly becomes very difficult to wear…
– schedule changes. If I’m asked to change my work schedule, my first impulse is “no”, even if I had nothing planned. I’ve learned to withhold that urge, and replace it with “I’ll have to check”. That buys me some time to try and get my head around the idea. People changing evening plans on the same day is also a good recipe for a brain-jam.
– thanks to a series of bad experiences, I’m also anxious in medical settings.
– And of course, all the usuals: getting reprimanded, being forced into some social interaction, people being aggressive, job interview, etc.

Some things that make other people anxious don’t make me anxious. These include:
– talking to strangers. They’re strangers. They don’t know who I am, and I’m a lot better at making a passable conversation with them as I can ask anything and am not expected to have remembered anything they’ve previously told me. I’m pretty good at seeming interested in what people are saying, and sometimes that’s all people want: someone to listen and ask insightful questions. Colleagues have been both impressed and horrified when I’ve walked up to the company owner, or some major contact in the field, and started questioning them.
– Non-people-related problems and emergencies. They just need a logical approach. IT problems, house problems, pandemics… But as soon as an emergency involves people, I fall to bits. I once had to take first aid training and a) it was only a day-course. If I’m meant to be an authority or have responsibility for something I need to know as much as is possible. One day is not adequate. A first-aid emergency has too many variables and I couldn’t cope with limited knowledge. b) you have to have good people skills to keep someone calm if they’re injured. I do not, as was demonstrated several times before someone else offered to do the training and take on the role instead.

This one swings from one extreme to the other, and I find it impossible to control.
A lot of things upset me to the point of tears, and I have no way to turn it off. When I burst into tears it often feels like an 85% physical reaction, 15% emotional. My brain will be quietly horrified as it watches my body react entirely inappropriately, and if I can I usually try to vocalise some apology or a “Sorry about this, I can’t help it, it’ll stop in a bit”. This reaction almost always occurs in response to some confrontation. I’m incredibly confrontation-averse, and encountering even a little bit of aggression or anger can completely overwhelm me.
I also often get upset watching the news sometimes. The idea of people deliberately hurting others for no reason, or treating them unfairly, or causing suffering to humans or other animals… These all trigger an upset, and I’ll struggle to keep my physical manifestations of that (tears, usually) in check.
But oftentimes if a friend tells me about something that upset them, it will feel like a story to me, and won’t affect me. I’ll probably think about it and try to puzzle out a solution or reason, and it won’t occur to me to offer the usual comforting kind of responses.
I remember in school sitting on a bench reading a book. A friend/acquaintance ran up in tears and sat down at the other end: they’d fled a lesson because they’d just heard that their parents were divorcing. I said “oh dear”, awkwardly watched them cry for a bit, and then carried on reading. A few minutes later the lesson ended and their classmates turned up, instantly hugged them (“oh yeah, that’s what you’re meant to do”, I remember thinking) and talked to them so naturally about it. It seemingly cheered them up.

Photo by George Hiles on Unsplash

Saving the best til last. Joy is fantastic. It will sometimes hit me seemingly randomly, and I’ll feel almost high for hours or days.
Joy can be prompted by a series of notes or chords that I love, or a smell that triggers nostalgia, or often something that I see: the way trees make sunlight dapple across grass, an excellent rock formation, new green shoots on an old plant, the way the sun makes patterns on the sandy bottom of a shallow stream, the sound of a breeze through leaves, the juxtaposition of crumbling structures being taken over by nature. All these things can make me so joyful and excited that I’ll wave my hands around, or jump, or (if I’m being much more controlled) very much need to stop and take a photo. Not that it ever captures the light correctly. I should go on a course… Anyway, I digress.
Joy is the best, and I’m very lucky to experience it fairly often now. I take the time to pay attention to all those small things above, and many more, and it helps me get through the days: knowing that those things exist, and being able to call them back as memories.

I’m sure there are other emotions, but I’m tired now and can’t think of them. I’ll probably come back to this post and add to it later!

(Header photo by Becca Tapert on Unsplash)

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